What's Changed Since Yesterday?
- Well, for one thing, two likely at-large bids disappeared. UTEP lost to Houston, and Utah State lost to New Mexico State, meaning UTEP and USU fell into the at-large pool. Meanwhile, bubble teams Washington and San Diego State locked down automatic bids, meaning they're sitting safe as kittens. Now, after a month of complaining about how awful the bubble was, we're looking at a bubble that has quite a few teams with a case to make for inclusion.
- With a chance at a 3-seed on the line, Tennessee got blown out of the water down the stretch against Kentucky, meaning they're probably looking at a seed in the 4-5 range.
- Purdue scored 11 points in the first half against Minnesota and kissed their chances at a 2-seed goodbye.
- Illinois had multiple chances to put Ohio State away and lock down a bid, and instead they froze up, blew opportunities, and lost in two overtimes. Combined with Minnesota's dominant performance, the Illini quickly fell from "almost safe" to "likely out."
- Rhode Island's bubble berth hopes died as they were thumped by Temple in the A10 semis. Now, the A10 is all but certain to be a 3-berth league.
- Morgan State, UA-Pine Bluff, UC-Santa Barbara, Sam Houston State, and Ohio (as the MAC's 9-seed) all scored Dance tickets. Gotta say, I've fallen for UAPB, not only because they uniquely managed to make the NCAA's despite going 0-11 in non-conference play while never losing by more than 20, but also because they are a pretty strong team (for a 16-seed and likely play-in gamer) despite spending most of the last decade as potentially the worst program in D1.
SEC Finals: Kentucky vs Mississippi State (ABC)
ACC Finals: Duke vs Georgia Tech (ESPN)
Atlantic 10 Finals: Temple vs Richmond (CBS)
Big Ten Finals: Ohio State vs Minnesota (CBS)
Last Eight In
Virginia Tech (Lunardi: In, Palm: Out)
Mississippi State (Lunardi: Out, Palm: Out)
So I tossed the numbers around 75 different ways, and I started coming to some conclusions. First of all, Gonzaga is getting some EXTREME benefit of the doubt. Here are the projected tourney teams they've beaten this year: Wisconsin, St. Mary's ... and that's it. Combine that with losses to Loyola Marymount and San Francisco, and ... is that a tourney team? When I initially drew this up, zooming in a lot more on the teams on the bubble, they ended up being the last team in the field. Meanwhile, Jerry Palm has them a 6-seed, Lunardi a 7. Why? Because they're Gonzaga. If San Francisco or Portland or some other lesser West Coast Conference team had Gonzaga's exact record, there's absolutely no chance anybody would have them in the field, and that's not really fair. Either way, I think they're in and all, but anything over about a 9-seed is giving the Zags far too much credit.
The committee is going to unveil a very interesting bracket this year. I can't remember a year where each team on the bubble had something very specific to offer and some major red flag.
- California played the schedule the committee wishes everybody would play, only they didn't actually come away with any major wins.
- Missouri looks like a tourney team in every regard, but they finished slow and could be punished for an injury to a starter.
- Gonzaga, I covered above. Not impressed.
- Utah State has a great combination of RPI and KenPom ranking, they beat BYU, and they won 17 in a row until last night's upset loss ... but BYU's the only tourney team they've beaten (other than New Mexico State, of course), and they had some pretty bad losses in December and January.
- UTEP won 16 in a row and managed a top 40 rating in both RPI and KenPom, plus they boast some serious star potential in Randy Culpepper and Derrick Caracter, but like Utah State, where are their impressive wins? They beat UAB twice, beat New Mexico State and bubble team Memphis, and ... ? They showed well in tight losses to BYU and Ole Miss, but come on.
- Wake Forest had a 9-7 record in the ACC, plus they've won six games against tourney teams (Maryland, Xavier, Richmond, Georgia Tech, Clemson, Gonzaga), but they've fallen apart down the stretch, losing five of six, and they lost five games to iffy teams (Miami twice, N.C. State, UNC, William & Mary).
- Virginia Tech went an even better 10-6 against the ACC, but holy crap are the lacking in the "big wins" category. They won double digits in a tough conference, but here are their four best wins: @Georgia Tech, Clemson, Wake Forest ... and Seton Hall. Their non-conference schedule was crap, and it wouldn't surprise me if the committee punished them for that.
- Speaking of no wins, everybody's new favorite team Mississippi State is pretty VaTechish themselves. Their four best wins: Vanderbilt (yesterday), Old Dominion, Florida (two days ago) ... and Ole Miss. Yuck. Meanwhile, they've lost FOUR games to teams ranked 130th or worse in the RPI (Western Kentucky, Rider, Auburn, Arkansas).
So why are these teams in? Because the "out" teams aren't any better.
First Eight Out
Minnesota (Lunardi: In, Palm: In)
Florida (Lunardi: Out, Palm: In)
- I'm happy for Minnesota that they've turned things on at the right time of the year, but if the committee is serious about not taking recent games as seriously, then the brutal stretch Minnesota had from mid-January to mid-February should injure them tremendously. On February 15, Minny stood at 14-10, with recent losses to Northwestern, Michigan (at home!) and Indiana. Obviously they've gotten better recently, with late-season wins over Wisconsin and Illinois and Big Ten tourney wins over Michigan State and Purdue, but they still have more bad losses than any other bubble team, and they still went just 9-9 in a top-heavy Big Ten.
- Florida has played 11 games against the RPI Top 50, which will almost certainly be looked upon fondly by the committee. But they only won three of those games, only one away from home (vs Michigan State way back in November). A home loss to South Alabama is just about the single worst loss of anybody on the bubble, and after all but locking up a bid in late-February, they've lost four of five to end the season, including a neutral court game against fellow bubble team Mississippi State.
- Seton Hall has almost no marquee wins (best wins: Pitt and Louisville at home, Cornell on the road), but they haven't lost to a single team that wasn't at least recently on the bubble (South Florida, UConn are their worst losses), and that should count for something, right?
- Illinois has the least impressive record of any bubble team (19-14), but they have more good wins than just about anybody else here -- Wisconsin twice (road AND neutral court), Vanderbilt, Michigan State, @Clemson. But four losses to RPI 100+ teams, plus a recent home loss to Minnesota and losses to other semi-bubble teams Missouri and Gonzaga? That, plus the fact that they've lost six of eight, will probably kill them.
How It Plays Out
Here's how I think things will play out in the end: Kentucky mauls Mississippi State, pushing Florida back ahead of MSU in the pecking order. Then the last spot will come down to Minnesota and the Gators. If the Gophers play well today, win or lose (or if the committee has already penciled them in due to time constraints ... do not underestimate this as a factor), then Minny steals the last spot. And if Minnesota and Mississippi State win today, then another at-large bid disappears, and suddenly Virginia Tech, Wake Forest and the semi-impressive mid-major trio (UTEP, Utah State and Gonzaga ... okay, not Gonzaga) get REALLY nervous.
Yesterday morning, I thought I had everything figured out -- 64 of the bids were all but set in stone, and I only disagreed with Lunardi or Palm about one team. Now? If any of about five of my "in" teams are left out, I won't at all be surprised. But we'll really get to see what's important to the committee when all is said and done. Do they really value tough schedules over big wins (would be good news for Cal and Florida)? Do they still punish teams for playing nobody in non-conference (uh oh, Virginia Tech)? Do they reward you for a late hot streak (Minnesota, Miss. State, Utah State, UTEP) or punish you for a late cold streak (Illinois, Florida, Wake Forest, even Mizzou), despite saying they probably wouldn't? Do they still overvalue conference tournament play far too much (good news for Minnesota, Miss. State ... bad news for most other teams on the bubble)? The answers will come soon enough, I guess.
Anyway ... on to the bracket (which will probably be completely re-drawn by about 4:30)!
8 - Big East
7 - ACC, Big 12
4 - Big Ten, Mountain West, SEC
3 - Atlantic 10
2 - Conference USA, Pac-10, WAC, WCC
Midwest Region (in St. Louis)
1 Kansas vs 16 Lehigh
8 Louisville vs 9 Georgia Tech
in Oklahoma City
5 Michigan State vs 12 Cornell
4 Tennessee vs 13 Murray State
6 Vanderbilt vs 11 Wake Forest
3 Temple vs 14 Houston
7 Texas vs 10 Gonzaga
2 Georgetown vs 15 Vermont
West Region (in Salt Lake City)
1 West Virginia vs 16 Robert Morris
8 Clemson vs 9 Missouri
5 BYU vs 12 Old Dominion
4 Purdue vs 13 New Mexico State
in San Jose
6 Xavier vs 11 Washington
3 Baylor vs 14 Sam Houston
in New Orleans
7 Marquette vs 10 St. Mary's
2 Duke vs 15 UCSB
East Region (in Syracuse)
1 Kentucky vs 16 East Tennessee St.
8 Northern Iowa vs 9 Notre Dame
in New Orleans
5 Maryland vs 12 Siena
4 New Mexico vs 13 Wofford
in San Jose
6 Richmond vs 11 Virginia Tech
3 Villanova vs 14 Montana
7 Oklahoma State vs 10 Utah State
2 Ohio State vs 15 Morgan State
South Region (in Houston)
1 Syracuse vs 16 UA-Pine Bluff / Winthrop
8 UNLV vs 9 California
5 Texas A&M vs 12 Mississippi State
4 Wisconsin vs 13 Oakland
6 Butler vs 11 UTEP
3 Pittsburgh vs 14 Ohio
7 Florida State vs 10 San Diego State
2 Kansas State vs 15 North Texas
in Oklahoma City
My At-First-Glance Final Four
Kansas, West Virginia, Kentucky, Syracuse? All #1's? That's no fun. Replace WVU with ... Baylor.
Second glance: Georgetown, Baylor, somebody crazy like Richmond, Kansas State. Fun.
Missouri's inevitable path to destiny™ (ahem)
Clemson, West Virginia, BYU, Baylor, Kansas, Syracuse.